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‘The best they could’: Nevada County Superintendent of Schools reflects on the school year, ponders what’s to come this fall

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

By the numbers

As of June 1

Number of COVID-19 cases: 41

Number tested: 2,857

Number in western county: 12

Number in eastern county: 29

Number of active cases: zero

Number of recoveries: 40

Number of deaths: 1

Learn more at http://www.theunion.com/coronavirus

Similar to educational trends across the country and the world, Nevada County schools have had to be nimble, adapting to the fast-changing tides of life that have accompanied the coronavirus pandemic.

Originally believing schools may be closed for a couple weeks or months in early March, administrators adjusted to distance and virtual learning within a relatively short period of time to prepare for a health crisis that wound up keeping students physically out of school through the end of the current school year — an unprecedented phenomenon in Nevada County’s history.

Now, as the current school year gives way to the next, administrators, teachers and students are trying to uncover answers to different questions in the educational realm that are all related to the future, which remains unpredictable and sometimes bleak.

There are still many uncertainties involving school budgets, and how much revenue will be appropriated to school districts; the effects of distance learning and what next year’s school calendar will look like; and there are questions encircling juniors and graduating seniors, who are transitioning to spaces much less predictable than they appeared a few months ago.


As far as the end of this school year is concerned, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay said he’s proud of both the collaboration between administrators as well as the performance of staff members and students as they had to work on a changed learning program without much notice.

“I think schools did the best they could given the short turnaround time,” he said, adding that next year, “distance learning has to be a lot better.”

There are still many unknowns lingering within K-12 education. Namely, what will next school year look like? Will students continue distance learning? Will staggered scheduling take place, or will a combination of the two occur?

Many of these decisions, Lay said, will be determined by the state Legislature’s manipulations to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget, and whether the federal government passes a stimulus package intended to provide financial assistance to local schools.

If schools are not afforded additional funding next school year and the system for counting students does not change, modified scheduling, with less students congregating at schools, will not be possible, according to the superintendent.

Next year, Lay said, will also bring questions as to how many students will return to school campuses, even if that is an option. As of May projections, Lay said local school districts have been told via surveys that anywhere from 10% to 30% of their students will not return in the fall due to fears of contracting or spreading the coronavirus.

One thing the superintendent is certain will change next year: simplifying the online platforms students use to complete virtual learning.

“It was too much,” said Lay, adding that the learning medium must be made more rigorous, which he said administrators are working to do statewide.

Additionally, the superintendent said if distance learning is to continue — which is likely to happen in some form next school year — school districts must improve how they manage the mental health of their students.

“Everyone deals with (sheltering in place) in a different way,” said Lay, noting some are very relaxed, believing the pandemic to be a hoax, while others are scared to death. In order to alleviate stress, students need to be able to meet face-to-face with others, even if it’s at a distance, he said.

Whatever is to come in the fall, though, administrators are anticipating it being like nothing they’ve ever seen.


Through the pandemic, Lay has not been surprised at all at what he calls a high degree of collaboration between the local public health department, superintendent of schools office and administrators from local school districts.

“Everyone is incredibly collaborative and it did not surprise me,” he said. “That’s just what we do here in Nevada County.”

This cooperation has helped school districts remain more prepared and adapt quickly to a constantly changing environment, he said, which has become particularly relevant as districts attempt to prepare for falling revenues that will be “unprecedented in modern history,” according to a report from the California Department of Finance.

Lay said districts are projecting total budget cuts of about 8%, which could be at least partially backfilled if another federal stimulus bill is passed. But as much is unknown about what sort of financial support local schools will receive, many districts are already preparing for a few different outcomes.

Difficulties balancing unknown budgets aside, Lay believes the appreciation for teachers, classified workers and education as a whole has likely increased in the county as parents are learning the difficulties of keeping control over, lesson planning for and, simultaneously, teaching their kids. The superintendent acknowledged teachers are more likely to be understanding of the difficulties experienced by parents and students at home, who may lack access to reliable internet, or economic or social stability.

“I think (gratitude) will go both ways,” he said.

But those values, he said, will not necessarily translate to a push for increased spending on local schools as local residents will likely be struggling to achieve financial stability.


Many administrators acknowledge, like Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden, that graduating seniors were robbed of their rite of passage. But seniors themselves have different perspectives on their high school experiences, and have different outlooks on what has become a more uncertain future.

Some, like Bear River High School senior Jordan Moore, had grown apathetic toward graduation, while others were thankful for the extra free time, using it to more diligently plan for next year.

As is happening in some spaces across the country, some students may be rethinking their future plans, deciding not to attend university considering the high cost for many during an economic recession that will last months, if not longer.

It also remains to be seen how high school juniors and those in lower grades interpret the current moment in the coming years, as some are upset about the switch to a pass/fail grading system.

In either case, there are many questions lingering for students of all ages as to how the pandemic will affect their lives, their educational trajectories and their futures in general.


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Coronavirus Guidance for Businesses/Employers

Nevada County Relief Fund for Covid-19

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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